Can the Internet help disrupt the power of Chicago Lobbyists through transparency?

Civic coder Derek Eder  wrote in this week to share his most recent project: Chicago Lobbyists. “This is probably the biggest, most impactful project I’ve worked on to date,” says Eder.” It has a lot of potential to inform and change people’s perception of government and lobbyists, and best of all, the city is cooperating with us do it.”
Eder and Nick Rougeux, working in collaboration with Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, have earned well-deserved recognition in the open government community for LookAtCook, a beautiful approach to visualizing budget data. Now Eder is onto something new: making the actions of lobbyists more transparent.
“Chicago Lobbyists” visualizes all of the interactions and activities of Lobbyists with the City of Chicago in 2010. Each lobbyist has a profile page that lists clients, fees, expenses, and what they lobbied fo in front of city agencies, including the city council. Eder explains more:
Every company or organization that hired lobbyists (we call them clients) has a profile showing the lobbyists they hired, the actions they hired them to make, and the amount they paid them. Interestingly, the Salvation Army is the number one spender on lobbyists for 2010 at $380,000. All of their money was spent on just 2 lobbyists, and they look to mostly be regarding zoning and land transfer.
Each city agency on ChicagoLobbyists also has a page summarizing the activities of lobbyists them. According to the site, City Council is the most lobbied agency with 152 lobbyists seeking a total of 587 lobbying actions on a wide range of subjects.

Opening Chicago

In 2011, working to open government, the Chicago way now means developers collaborating with the city.
One of the most exciting parts about this project has been our interaction with the city, says, Eder, specifically chief data officer Brett Goldstein.
“After making a rough version of Chicago Lobbyists in late July, we found that a lot of lobbying data was missing from the datasets the city had published,” he said. “We met with Brett and his staff, explained what was missing, and by the end of August, they had updated their data with the pieces that were missing. We then took that new data and updated our site accordingly. With it, we are now able to tie clients to specific lobbying actions and show how much clients paid each lobbyist.”
More information about the project is available on the ChicagoLobbyists blog in “An Open Data Story: and “Chicago Lobbyists V2 Is Here.” Eder
notes that they’ve submitted Chicago Lobbyists to the Apps for Metro Chicago Grand Challenge. If you’re interested in examples of civic coding for cities, there’s no shortage of inspiration there

Building a revolution in relevance in an age of information abundance

Revolutions rooms“We’ve had a decade’s worth of news in less than two months,” Mike Allen, chief White House correspondent for Politico. In the Saturday edition of Politico’s Playbook, Allen looked back at the Arab Spring and Japanese ongoing challenges:

It was Feb. 11 – seven weeks ago — that Mubarak fled the Arab spring, a rolling reordering of Middle East power that could wind up affecting global security as profoundly as 9/11.

It was March 11 – 15 days ago – that we woke to the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which will have ripple effects on the fragile global economy for months to come.

And, oh, we’re in three hot conflicts at once, for the first time since World War II.”

Related, in the NEW YORK TIMES: “Inundated With News, Many Find It Difficult to Keep Up on Libya

“People interviewed across four states said that at a time when the world seems to stagger from one breathtaking news event to another — rolling turmoil across the Middle East, economic troubles at home, disaster upon disaster in Japan — the airstrikes on military targets in Libya can feel like one crisis too many.”

Through it all, I’ve been following Andy Carvin (@acarvin), whose Twitter feed has been a groundbreaking curation of the virtual community and conversation about the Middle East, including images, video, breaking news and unverified reports.

To wax metaphorical, his account has become a stream of crisis data drawn from from the data exhaust created by the fog of war across the Middle East, dutifully curated by a veteran digital journalist for up to 17 hours a day.

Carvin has linked to reports, to video and images from the front lines that are amongst the most graphic images of war I have ever seen. While such imagery is categorically horrific to view, they can help to bear witness to what is happening on the ground in countries where state media would never broadcast their like.

The vast majority of the United States, however, is not tracking what’s happening on the ground in the region so closely. NEW YORK TIMES:  

“A survey by the Pew Research Center — conducted partly before and partly after the bombing raids on Libya began on March 19 — found that only 5 percent of respondents were following the events ‘very closely.’ Fifty-seven percent said they were closely following the news about Japan.”

Understanding the immensity of the challenges that face Japan, Egypt and Libya is pushing everyone’s capacity to stay informed with day to day updates, much less the larger questions of what the larger implications of these events all are for citizens, industry or government. In the context of the raw information available to the news consumer in 2011, that reality is both exciting and alarming. The tools for newsgathering and dissemination are more powerful and democratized than ever before. The open question now is how technologists and journalists will work together to improve them to provide that context that everyone needs.

Finally, an editor’s note: My deepest thanks to all of the brave and committed journalists working long hours, traveling far from their families and risking their lives under hostile regimes for the reporting that helps us make it so.